Dear Jeanne & Leonard:

My son thinks his younger brother cheated me. A dozen years ago, I moved in with my younger son, “Adam,” and his wife, spending about $60,000 to add a mother-in-law apartment to their home. I also contributed $325 per month to pay for my share of utilities, insurance, food and so on. Then, about a year ago, Adam and his wife sold their home, moved to another part of the state to take new jobs and rented a condo. I continue to live with them, and I continue to pay them $325 per month to cover my share of the bills. The problem is, my older son thinks that since I put $60,000 into Adam’s house, I should have gotten a share of the proceeds from selling it. My response has been “Mind your own business,” but he continues to nag me. Is it possible he’s right?

— Louisa, Arkansas

Dear Louisa:

Adam’s big brother needs a reality check — and a remedial math class. Because it sounds to us as if the $60,000 you paid for your mother-in-law apartment has bought you rent-free living indefinitely. So far, you’ve lived with Adam and his wife for 12 years. Imagine you live with them for only another six. In that case, the $60,000 will have bought you 216 months of rent-free living, which works out to less than $280 a month. We don’t know what rents are like where you live. But given that you also have on-the-premises caregivers should you need them, this seems like a more than reasonable deal to us — a deal your older son should appreciate, not criticize.

Dear Jeanne & Leonard:

My 20-year-old daughter moved into an apartment in January, putting down a $500 security deposit. Nothing’s in writing, but she and the landlord agreed that she would stay there at least six months. In February, though, she found a friend who wanted to share an apartment with her, so the two of them started looking for a larger place, and my daughter gave her landlord one month’s notice that she’d be leaving. Now the landlord’s refusing to return the security deposit because my daughter didn’t stay six months. Can he legally do this when there’s nothing in writing that says my daughter has to stay six months?

— Rose, Arizona

Dear Rose:

Suppose the shoe were on the other foot. Suppose the landlord found a better-paying tenant who would sign a 12-month lease, and suppose your daughter wasn’t planning to move. How would you feel if he ignored the agreement he has with your daughter and booted her out? Would the fact that the agreement wasn’t in writing make that OK with you?

Sure, you can ask a lawyer if there’s any way for your daughter to get her security deposit back. But in our book, she should keep her word. She promised to pay for that apartment for six months or forfeit her security deposit, and that is what she should do.

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